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The Power Is Out

03/15/02 12:00AM By Willem Lange

Mother and I pulled into the dooryard about ten at night. "D'you leave the porch light on?" I asked her.

"Yes, I did," said Mother.

"Nuts! That means the power's off!"

The front door swung open to a silence unrelieved by the sound of furnace or humidifier, and a darkness unrelieved by the usual gleam of digital clocks on appliances. The cat and dog emerged from the gloom and brushed our legs to assure us they were there.

We tend to think of ourselves around here as Independent People. Not for us the moaning of city folks over a few inches of snow or a few degrees of wind chill. I've memorized the power company emergency number, where you get an automatic answering device that elicits your phone number, tells you discreetly where you live, and thanks you for calling. So then what?

We dig out a flashlight and start lighting candles and oil lamps. Start the parlor stove. Go to bed, maybe, and wait for the line crew to make repairs. Nothing else to do.

Except perhaps reflect on how much we independent people depend upon electrical power. Lights and heat are no big deal, at least in the short term; the parlor stove really warms things up, and there are candles and oil lamps, and a Coleman lantern. We miss the television not at all. The telephones are generally not out, but only the old-fashioned ones work. The answering machine and fax are dead as hammers. Electric stove and microwave, too. But I just set up the Coleman stove in the kitchen, and it works just fine. So now we get to the things we really miss.

Water is Number One. Without it, you can't brush your teeth or wash, and you can't flush the toilets. This may seem trivial in light of the suffering of many of the world's less fortunate people, but it sure doesn't feel trivial at the time. I could take the six-gallon jug down to the brook. But the bank's pretty steep, and I'd have to wear snowshoes to get down onto the ice. And if I broke through, I'm not sure I'd get out. Be an awful thing to spend the night up to your knees in ice water, wearing snowshoes. It's easier to drive toward town with the water jug till I come to a house with lights.

The computer is next. Embarrassing as it is to admit it, it's taken over so many jobs in the house that adjusting to life without it would be as difficult, at least, as it was to learn to use it. Writing, communicating, bookkeeping -- several hours a day -- gone for the time being.

On the other hand, nobody expects you to answer the bell. And with so many activities impossible, Mother and I get a brief experience of the simpler life we knew as children. That life, we've decided, wasn't half bad.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

--Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.




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